Going places: Germany extends its commemoration of 1,700 years of Jewish life through July 2022

Karen Rubin

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, attention was turned to the 77th year since Auschwitz death camp was liberated, and the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and much of the world. Less known is that Germany for the past year has been commemorating 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany, and has extended the festival year, #2021JLID, series of celebrations, exhibitions, events and commemorations through July 31, 2022.

The commemoration is an initiative of the association “321-2021: 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany,” (https://eurojewcong.org/news/communities-news/germany/1-700-years-of-jewish-life-in-germany-jubilee-extended-by-half-a-year/), acting to counter anti-Semitism in Germany.

In December 2021, 1,700 flags were raised to commemorate 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany. “Auf das Leben!” German for: “To life!” (l’chaim). This Jewish toast was emblazoned on these flags, flying above state parliaments, synagogues, churches, universities, museums, the Central Council of Jews in Germany (https://www.zentralratderjuden.de/), among many other public places.

The fact that Jews lived in Germany for 1,700 years before the Holocaust bears emphasis, inasmuch as it took a mere 10 years between the democratic election of Adolph Hitler to Chancellor of the Third Reich and the Final Solution.

The history of Jews in Germany dates back to the year 321 when the Roman Emperor Constantine issued an edict that marked the earliest evidence of Jewish life in Germany. The edit was born out of a profane need: the city council of Cologne had to repair a damaged bridge but lacked the financial means. A Jew named Isaac offered monetary assistance but required a professional position in the city council to do so. Emperor Constantine granted the request for permission, resulting in the first firmly written evidence of Jewish life in Europe, North of the Alps, according to information provided by the German National Tourist Office.

“Despite a varied history and the unspeakable crimes against humanity of the Nazi regime during the Shoa, Jews resettled in Germany following World War II. Today, more than 200,000 people have made their home in about 100 Jewish Communities across the country. They contributed greatly to the development of Germany in the arts, philosophy, science, medicine and economic landscape, and became an inseparable part of our society.”

Places of Jewish heritage can be found throughout the country: the Rykestrasse Synagogue in Berlin, the Synagogues in Cologne, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Ulm, Bayreuth, Augsburg, the Jewish Cemetery ‘Heiliger Sand’ in Worms, the ShUM Sites on the Rhine, the “document” at the Neupfarrplatz in Regensburg, the timber-framed synagogue in Celle, the New Synagogue in Dresden and the Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich are just some examples.

The anniversary year showcases aspects about Jewish culture, traditions and customs and sends a clear message against anti- Semitism. Events have been organized across the country under the banner, #2021JLID – Jewish Life in Germany (https://2021jlid.de/), including concerts, virtual exhibitions, music, podcasts, video projects, theater, and films.

The Shared History Project was initiated by the Leo Baeck Institute–New York-Berlin (LBI) and supported by #2021JLID–Jüdisches Leben in Deutschland e.V. with funding from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI).

A joint initiative of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Catholic, Protestant churches and other groups, it provides cultural and historical exhibitions about Jewish life and faith in Germany as well as commemorations, postage stamps, and a Jewish food guide. The wide-ranging activities – almost 1,500 overall – both in analog and digital form, have one goal in common: to strike a balance between past, present, and future.

“The events throughout the year brought a sense of new confidence to light, allowing many Jews to show their culture and customs in the streets of Germany, resulting in an experience of togetherness between Jews and non-Jews.”

The German federal government has responded to requests to extend festival year, #2021JLID, until July 31, 2022. For the project partners whose events could not take place in the planned form due to the Covid-19 pandemic (such as with an audience or with guests from abroad), this provides the opportunity to carry out the events after all. The “Jewish Traveler” e-brochure highlights 65 cities and towns with special travel tips and contact details of Jewish organizations and institutions (https://www.germany.travel/en/cities-culture/germany-for-the-jewish-traveler.html).

A collection of resources on Jewish Life in Germany today provides current and upcoming programs, links to activities of government and public institutions, as well as state, city, and local authorities (https://2021jlid.de/en/topic-pages-on-jewish-life-today/)

Here are some of the events honoring Jewish culture in Germany:

Augsburg, Bavaria: The Jewish Museum in Augsburg shows two exhibitions reflecting on Jewish life in the city. The exhibition “Jews through the Eyes of Others” (until September 4, 2022) questions clichés, prejudices, exaggerations, generalizations, and categorizations and asks the question: what role do Jewish museums play in perpetuating such projections? (https://jmaugsburg.de/en/exhibitions/judenbilder/)

The exhibition “The End of the Testimony” (until June 5, 2022) focuses on memories of contemporary witnesses, and the question of how to maintain statements of oral history for the next generations. It shows written testimonies and video interviews of contemporary witnesses and focuses on the question of how we want to deal with this legacy in the future. (https://jmaugsburg.de/en/exhibitions/end-of-testimony/)

Bamberg, Bavaria: Exhibition, “Medieval Mikvah in Bamberg.” In the new “Quartier an der Stadtmauer” in the middle of Bamberg is a medieval mikvah – a Jewish ritual bath – from the early 15th century as well as a baroque house from the 18th century that once had Jewish residents. It is the oldest monument of the Jewish community in Bamberg still visible.

Berlin: The New Synagogue which opened in 1866 is today the home of the Centrum Judaicum, which sees itself as a link between the past and the future. It serves as a site of research and documentation and brings Berlin’s vibrant Jewish history to life. The exhibitions “Under the wedding sky – weddings in Jewish Berlin” and “Telling Jewish Berlin. Mine, yours, ours?” (until June 12, 2022) unfold a mosaic of stories, experiences, and emotions, revolving around individual perspectives and personal relationships. (https://centrumjudaicum.de/)

The 28th Jewish Film Festival Berlin | Brandenburg (JFBB), the largest Jewish film festival in Germany, will take place June 14 to June 19, 2022, in numerous venues in Berlin and Potsdam. The JFBB program aims to enliven political and historical debates, counter anti-Semitism, narrate Jewish themes beyond stereotypes, and offer points of contact for the audience. On the program are feature films, documentaries, retrospectives, international films of all genres, high-end TV series, (contemporary witness) talks, and panel discussions.

Büren-Wewelsburg, North Rhine-Westphalia: Discover the fascinating Jewish history of the former Hochstift Paderborn – the historical museum of the Paderborn monastery, the Wewelsburg memorial and memorial site 1933–1945.

Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia: Project: “Jewish Cologne – on the right bank of the Rhine.” Two centuries of Jewish history are closely connected to the Jewish cemetery in Cologne-Deutz. It forms the bridge between the Middle Ages and the modern age, and is also the link to Cologne on the right bank of the Rhine, the “Schäl Sick”. The project “Jewish Cologne-rechtsrheinisch” uses digital media to make history visible behind weathered inscriptions.

Dresden, Saxony: The exhibit “Rethinking City History: Perspectives on Jewish Stories and Present Lifes” (until March 31, 2022) retraces the complex Jewish life in the capital of Saxony. Guided tours, a blog series and a YouTube video provide a deeper insight into the project.

Franconia: Jewish culture thrived in Franconia for almost 1,000 years. Jewish scholars, Franconian-Jewish dialects, foundations, synagogues and more than 100 Jewish cemeteries had a significant impact on all aspects of life. This ended abruptly with the almost complete annihilation of the Jewish population during the Third Reich. Today, there are again Jewish communities in Franconia, as well as important institutions, including the Jewish Museum Franconia in Fürth, the “Museum Shalom Europa” in Würzburg, and the “Fränkische Schweiz Museum” in Tüchersfeld. Guided tours offered in many towns also invite visitors to explore the history and present state of Jewish culture.

Munich, Bavaria: Exhibition, “The Joys of Yiddish.” A roof frieze by the conceptual artist Mel Bochner at the Haus der Kunst in Munich reflects the Jewish language and the past. His work is shaped by reflections on the relationship between language and image. Born in Pittsburgh in 1940, Bochner grew up in a traditional Jewish family. The word-chain on the roof frieze of the Haus der Kunst in Munich consists of colloquial terms from Yiddish.

Nuremberg, Bavaria presents a concert series “World Music and Klezmer in the Villa Leon” of the instrumental wedding music for Jews from Eastern Europe. The Villa Leon offers the oldest existing series of klezmer music in Germany. Numerous associations and individuals also are organizing concerts.

Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate has produced an audio publication: “Jewish life in Trier.” Alongside Cologne and Mainz, the city of Trier was the earliest place on German territory where Jews settled. The long history of the Jewish community in Trier is reflected in the collections of the city. The library, for example, has the largest collection of Hebrew and Aramaic binding fragments in all of Germany.

More information from the Germany National Tourist, New York, 212-661-7200, www.germany.travel.

Israel Reopens to American Travelers

Israel is now open to most travelers. However, the fine print can be hard to navigate and the requirements can change as the situation changes.

As of January 9, 2022, vaccinated and recovered tourists from all countries are allowed to enter Israel, with the exception of unvaccinated children. All arrivals to Israel must take a PCR test at the airport. Then, they must quarantine for 24 hours or until they receive a negative result from the PCR test. The results arrive usually in less than 24 hours.

Various forms and documents are mandatory to be able to board a flight to Israel within 36 hours of flight, and need to be downloaded. (https://www.gov.il/en/service/request-entry-to-israel-covid19)

All visitors must take a PCR test upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport. The test costs between 80-115 NIS ($26-$40); vaccinated individuals must quarantine for 24 hours or until receiving a negative PCR test result, while unvaccinated individuals must quarantine for 7 days, then take another PCR test on the 7th day.

See: www.touristisrael.com/when-will-travel-to-israel-resume/31963.

Photo: The new main synagogue in the Jewish center, Munich. Germany is extending its commemoration of 1,700 years of Jewish life through July 2022 © Getty Images / FooTToo

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